Zavala County co-op: Waylaid again By Lisa Spann Austin Remember when Dolph Briscoe attacked plans for a Zavala County agricultural cooperative as a plot to establish “a little Cuba . . . a communal farm . . . Socialism” in his home region of Southwest Texas \(Obs., Well, since that outburst two years ago this month, Dolph has shown uncharacteristic energy and resourcefulness in a so far successful effort to abort the proposed social and economic venture by cutting off the federal funds needed to get it started. Yet somewhat surprisingly, and no thanks to the lame-duck governor, the $885,000 federal grant proposal for the Zavala co-op is still alive. Even Briscoe must have known that his propaganda campaign, launched at the September 1976 state Democratic convention, was disingenuous. Cooperative business organizations have been a common feature of Texas agriculture for over a hundred years, thousands of Texas farmers are co-op members, and the Zavala project is just a part of this tradition. The proposal was simply to have farmworkers work for themselves for a change, as dues-paying members with a voice in controlling the operation of a 1,000-acre labor-intensive farm, with higher wages and more job security than they could get working for Valley growers. Marketing of the farm’s crops was to be part of a larger export-import operation that would make the co-op a broker for produce coming into the U.S. from Mexico, providing a cushion against economic reverses the farming operation might encounter and a source of capital for improvements and expansion in good years. A planned savings and loan sideline was also intended to build up investment funds. Now this is plainly private enterprise. albeit of the cooperative variety, but that didn’t keep the governor from calling it “un-American” and “un-Texan,” nor did it keep a veritable “Who’s Who” of South Texas economic and political heavyweights from parroting his line. Besides Dolph, whose ranching interests take in 22,000 acres in Zavala County alone, opponents of the co-op have included such notables as Congressman Chick Kazen of Laredo, attorney Hayden Head of Corpus Christ \(another Johnson, a wealthy local rancher. What these worthies have in common, besides their devotion to capitalism on a grand scale, is bitter enmity toward the insurgent Raza Unida party that dominates Zavala County and its county seat, Crystal Cityand that’s what has been behind the campaign to kill the cooperative farm proposal. The vehicle for establishing the co-op is the Zavala County Economic Development Corporation, a nonprofit operation closely linked to Raza Unidaheaded, in fact, by Zavala County Judge Jose Angel Gutierrez, the party’s founder. The party has done a lot to upset the local power structure in South Texas, and to put the matter simply, Briscoe and company have been opposing the federal grant to get even. Briscoe’s first gambit, it may be recalled, was to temporarily block the disbursement of federal money to the corporation by insisting on his technical right to review and comment on the proposal. He prevailed on the point in federal court, but the victory didn’t get him all he wantedhe could hold up the grant for 60 days, but he couldn’t veto it. So the governor turned from legal tactics to political maneuvering. He had helped Jimmy Carter win the presidency 10 SEPTEMBER 22, 1978
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